Neil Young and Crazy Horse

The last time the full group assembled to back Young on an album of original material -- the bloated and aimless "Broken Arrow" -- was in 1996, and the reunited band is set to release double album "Psychedelic Pill" on Oct. 30.

In a remarkably vast and varied career, Neil Young has consistently returned to perform and record albums with his ragtag, primitivist rock ‘n’ roll band Crazy Horse. The last time the full group assembled to back Young on an album of original material — the bloated and aimless “Broken Arrow” — was in 1996, and the reunited band is set to release double album “Psychedelic Pill” on Oct. 30. They previewed the new album extensively Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl.

After the house lights dimmed at the Bowl, a farcical scene played out onstage: As the final setpieces were lowered into position, a group of sound technicians — dressed in white lab coats — frantically scrambled to remove road cases from a set of comically oversized guitar amps while the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” played in the background. As the song concluded, Young and his bandmates walked onstage — dressed uniformly in t-shirts and jeans — and proceeded to stand, solemnly, as “The Star Spangled Banner” played through the PA system. It was an absurd, lengthy and unexplained introduction to a performance that seemed to revel in the mystification of its audience while providing too little in the way of answers or empathy.

Opening with a lengthy rendition of “Love and Only Love,” the group embarked on the first of many jams. Each briefly sung verse and chorus was accompanied by a winding, repetitive electric guitar solo by Young, whose playing was guttural and searing if myopic in its phrasing and melodic choices. The real issue with Young and Crazy Horse as “jam band” is that only one of the musicians onstage is allowed to improvise. Young shreds, and the other guys just kind of plod along, which is compelling for a little while but grows tiresome over long stretches.

A pristine reading of “Powderfinger” contained some truly exquisite guitar and vocal harmonies that shed light upon the group’s true strengths as a tight, melodic unit. Crazy Horse began its musical career in 1963 as an all-vocal doo-wop ensemble (Danny and the Memories), and the members’ underrated vocal abilities are at the core of the band’s fertile collaboration with Young.

Overall, the setlist drew heavily from “Psychedelic Pill,” which seems to explore the existential rigors of aging with an overtly direct lyrical sensibility. Nostalgic ruminations like the janky, cringe-inducing rocker “Born in Ontario” and the endless, simile-filled “Walk Like a Giant” lent a directionless feeling to a show that relied enormously upon the audience’s perceptions and personal interpretations. When Young solos for three quarters of a song, that song’s lyrics become exponentially more important because they provide tangible, concrete grounding to his mercurial musical improvisations. If said lyrics fail to resonate, then the entire exercise feels futile. With the “Psychedelic Pill” material, this sort of hollowness appeared time and time again.

Midway through the evening, Young performed two solo acoustic tracks: his classic anti-heroin ode “Needle and the Damage Done” and “Twisted Road,” a nostalgic new tune that makes lyrical references to Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams and the Grateful Dead. Later in the set, the group regained some of its early momentum with fiery renditions of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Fuckin’ Up,” the latter of which was a clear highlight. Another forgettable new track, “Party Girl,” followed but thankfully gave way to a titanic reading of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” that found Young and his cohorts huddled at center stage, reveling in the song’s monolithic riffs and slabs of distortion.

The evening was capped with a one-song encore comprised of the stomping Buffalo Springfield track “Mr. Soul,” which found Young in fine voice, pushing his warbling tenor with a reckless, punk-inspired sensibility. In comparison to Young performances of old, perhaps this concert did cater more directly to his audience’s desire for chestnuts and classic tunes, but the overemphasis on his weaker new material overshadowed what could have been an illuminating exploration of a rich body of work.

Popular on Variety

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Hollywood Bowl; 17,900 capacity; $300 top

Production: Presented by Live Nation and Hewitt/Silva. Performers: Neil Young, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, Frank Sampedro. Also Appearing: Los Lobos. Reviewed Oct. 17, 2012.

More Music

  • does self-described "family brands" business Hasbro

    With Hasbro Acquisition, Is eOne Planning to Offload Family-Unfriendly Properties?

    Hasbro’s $4 billion acquisition of eOne in August instantly put the Canadian toy giant in the league of major entertainment and content companies thanks to eOne’s arsenal of IP assets in music, television and film. But does the self-described “family brands” business that’s home to The Game of Life and My Little Pony align with [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Snoop Dogg Weed

    In the Cannabis Business, Not All Star Strains Are Created Equal

    With the cannabis green rush in full swing, many celebrities are jumping into the fray with their own brands, including such well-known stoners as Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong. But as it turns out, not all star strains are created equal, so we assembled a trio of crack experts to put the product [...]

  • The Cars - Ric OcasekThe Cars

    Ric Ocasek's Death Brings Turbo Boost to the Cars' Sales, Streams and Airplay

    For fans of the Cars, relistening to the band’s music was just what they needed in the hours and days following news of band leader Ric Ocasek’s death. The Cars was the artist with the second-highest overall album sales in the two days following Ocasek’s death, according to BuzzAngle Music, with the Sept. 15-16 long-dormant [...]

  • Richard Branson Jason Felts

    Kaaboo Festival Acquired by Virgin Fest Owner Jason Felts

    Kaaboo, which says it has “shifted the music festival paradigm by offering a highly amenitized festival experience for adults,” is now under new ownership. Virgin Fest founder and CEO Jason Felts (pictured above with Virgin founder Richard Branson) has fully acquired all of the festival brand assets through an affiliate of Virgin Fest, the music [...]

  • Live Nation Chief Michael Rapino Talks

    Live Nation-Ticketmaster Chief Michael Rapino Talks Dept. of Justice Inquiries

    Back in August, Senators Richard Blumenthal of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota made the most recent of several requests for an Department of Justice antitrust investigation into competition in the ticketing industry, and it soon became clear that the target of the probe was Live Nation and its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster, which [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content